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Attorney in Augusta County illegal closed meeting case: Turn the tapes over now

Chris Graham
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An attorney representing Breaking Through Media is asking an Augusta County judge to compel the county to immediately turn over the recording of 2023 closed meeting of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors that the judge found last month was conducted illegally.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Wilson IV issued a court order to the county on Jan. 11 in the case challenging the county’s denial of Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests made by AFP and Breaking Through Media for copies of a digital recording made of a March 20, 2023, closed session of the Board of Supervisors in which the resignation of South River Supervisor Steven Morelli was a major point of discussion.

The wording of the order from Wilson was clear and unequivocal: “There is no need for an injunction – I am ordering compliance, which is sufficient,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

We’re now five weeks past the Jan. 11 date on which this order was handed down, and the county has yet to comply.

“This motion arises from ongoing obfuscation and delay by Respondents in a clear attempt to avoid compliance with this Court’s January 11, 2024, Order, which mandated the production of the subject recording. Despite the Court’s unequivocal directive, Respondents have engaged in a pattern of behavior that not only contradicts the plain language of the Court’s ruling but also undermines the judicial process.”

That was Amina Matheny-Willard, who is representing Breaking Through Media in its case against the county, in a legal brief filed on Friday.

The county has simply resisted complying with the order from Wilson, as the Board of Supervisors has signaled its intent to appeal the ruling, while the outside counsel retained by the county, Rosalie Pemberton Fessier, has resisted an effort made by Matheny-Willard to add to her legal team to prepare for the appellate phase.

“Respondents previously represented to this Court that: ‘The only issue remaining is a hearing on attorney’s fees and bringing in an out of state attorney just for that hearing needlessly increases those attorney’s fees.” This, however, was after the Respondents engaged in a public vote to appeal this Court’s pending final order and a statement to counsel that the County may seek a stay of enforcement,” Matheny-Willard wrote.

Matheny-Willard is requesting that Wilson issue an interim court order requiring the county to produce the recording of the BOS meeting within 24 hours.

“This immediate production is critical to uphold the integrity of the Court’s orders and to prevent further unnecessary delays in the resolution of this matter,” Matheny-Willard wrote in today’s brief.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].